What is EIFS?
We Perform Inspections Nationwide
Cliff Kapson Consulting Ltd. is available for inspections, consultations, and expert witness testimony throughout the United States. Please contact us toll free at 888-304-3437 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond to your inquiry within 24 hours.
Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) is commonly referred to as synthetic stucco or Dryvit. EIFS was developed in Germany during the 1950’s as one of many revolutionary building materials or systems to assist in the re-building of Europe after World War II. The product has evolved over the ensuing years and there are currently over a dozen manufacturers, the most prominent being Dryvit, Senergy, Sto and Parex.
As you travel from coast to coast you can see thousands of hotels, motels, office buildings, strip malls and homes clad with EIFS in more architectural variations than you could imagine. In addition to the almost unlimited design capabilities, EIFS is also very “energy efficient”, as it provides a virtual blanket for the exterior of a structure through the use of expanded polystyrene or EPS foam insulation.
There are basically two types of EIF systems, “Barrier EIFS” and “Water-Managed/Drainage” EIFS (see illustration). Although Water-Managed EIF systems have been available since around 1996, most EIFS applications prior to 2000 utilized the barrier system.
In a typical EIFS application the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) or Polyisocyanurate (PI) foam board is mechanically and/or adhesively fastened to an approved substrate. A fiberglass reinforced mesh is then applied to the foam board and fully embedded in a basecoat. After the basecoat is cured (usually 24 hours) the finish coat, which gives the wall its stucco appearance is then applied.
In the mid-‘90s concerns arose over the performance of EIFS. As many EIFS homes were inspected, moisture intrusion and damage to sub-sheathing and framing was frequently discovered. Many theories have espoused regarding this issue, these theories range from misapplication of EIFS materials, improper interface of EIFS with other components (such as windows, doors, and flashing), and defective construction materials– to an all out condemnation of EIFS.
Some would argue that the barrier EIF system is inherently flawed as it makes no allowance for even incidental moisture to escape from behind the exterior insulation and finish system cladding. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the barrier system, the design professional and/or general contractor is relying primarily on sealants to keep moisture from intruding – and in fact all sealants will eventually fail. It’s important to note that moisture intrusion is a normal occurrence in all types of construction, both residential and commercial, brick, cedar, stone, aluminum, vinyl siding and even water-managed EIFS. Because EIFS is easier to inspect it has naturally come under more scrutiny than most other claddings. But this could also be viewed as an advantage, in that other types of cladding are difficult to inspect and therefore moisture intrusion and damage could go on for many years before it is discovered.
We have found that most often when moisture intrusion and damage occurs, regardless of the exterior cladding, it occurs at areas of transition between the exterior cladding and other materials such as window frames, door sills, utility penetrations, balcony and deck attachments and roof flashing. Extensive structural damage can occur when water intrusion is large in volume and frequent. If left undetected, prolonged moisture build up can cause damage to sheathing, structural framing and other materials, some of which are also susceptible to microbial growth (mold) and in the case of steel framing, corrosion.
EIFS Inspection Protocol
All major manufacturers of EIFS such as Senergy, Dryvit, Parex and Sto recommend “regular” inspections and maintenance. On their web site Dryvit® Systems, Inc. states, “It is important that you inspect your building to see if any problems are developing. However, your visual inspections should not replace the recommended schedule of inspections by a qualified professional”
Our inspection services have been established through knowledge gained from our years of experience, and by utilizing the various standards and protocols developed by other industry experts, including such organizations as, the North Carolina Department of Insurance, Exterior Design Institute (EDI) and the Association of the Wall & Ceiling Industry (AWCI).
We recommend annual inspections if your building is clad with a “barrier” EIF system. Water-managed or drainage EIF systems and homes clad with cultured stone, stucco or thin brick should also be inspected periodically, depending on your geographical location. For example, homes in the Midwest experience an extreme weather cycle with rain and sleet in the fall, snow, ice and temperatures below 0°F in the winter, rain in the spring and lots of sun with temperatures over 90°F in the summer. These extremes can cause excessive structural movement of many of the different materials on a house (wood, aluminum, vinyl, stucco, brick, stone, etc.) which in turn can cause sealant joints to fail, as well as ice damming, flashing failure and structural cracking.
In most cases water intrusion problems are not apparent from a visual inspection of the exterior. However, we have the methods and tools necessary to detect any problems or potential problems.
Some of these methods may be more invasive than others and some are non-invasive. They include a thorough visual inspection and various types of meters that can measure the moisture content of the building components behind the exterior. One of these meters, the Tramex Wet Wall Detector, can detect moisture through electrical impedance technology, which works on the principle that the electrical impedance of a material varies in proportion to its moisture content. Because this type of meter is not 100% accurate, use of an electrical impedance scan meter should always be coupled with an electrode or pin-type probe meter.
Do not allow any inspector to convince you that they can perform a thorough assessment of any EIF System without invasive testing of some kind.
Pin-type meters, which utilize the principle of electrical resistance actually penetrate the sheathing, which also allows the inspector to not only determine if there is excessive moisture but the condition of the substrate and whether damage may have occurred in a specific location.
When exterior inspection is limited due to weather conditions or logistics other tools can be successful in detecting problems. One such tool is infrared scanning or thermography, which can be used to inspect the exterior walls from the inside.
At minimum, the use of moisture meters to detect excessive moisture levels and probing into the substrate to determine if it is firm or soft is required. Occasionally, more invasive measures such as core samples or other cuttings and/or removal of the EIF system is necessary to fully assess the source of the moisture intrusion as well as the extent of the damage.
Once the inspection report has been delivered to the client and a qualified repair contractor has been engaged, repairs can commence.
There is however, one more step that many building owners/managers have chosen to take in order to ensure that the repairs are completed in a manner consistent with manufacturer’s recommended details and/or EIFS industry standards.
Cliff Kapson Consulting, Ltd has a repair-monitoring program that not only provides “peace of mind” for the client, but also assists property managers and/or homeowner association officers and other board members in fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility by providing written documentation of said repairs from an independent third-party.
We provide all of our clients with a customized “Repair Protocol” based on the findings of our inspection. This document can be used by the client when requesting repair bids and provides a guideline for the minimum standards required for a successful repair.
Another key element to our repair monitoring program is that all site visits are randomly scheduled. This allows our inspectors to observe “real working” conditions. Each site visit is photo documented. In most cases we are not contracted to be the “Project Manager”, therefore, to supplement our site visits we require that all repairs also be photo-documented at the critical stages by the repair contractor. This additional documentation is critical to ensure that repairs are in conformance with the standards outlined above.
Any “problems” observed at the time of inspection are documented and are expected to be corrected along with photo and written documentation of corrective action by the contractor prior to our next site visit. The frequency and fees for these site visits are determined by the scope of work to be performed. Additionally, every attempt is made to maintain an open line of communication with the repair contractor throughout the repair process. This helps to avoid redundant site visits.
Upon completion of the repairs, Cliff Kapson Consulting, Ltd will submit a “Final Letter of Completion” along with photo-documentation of our site visits.
Also ask us about the DryvitCARE Extended Warranty Program for Commercial and Multi-Unit Residential Buildings.
Inspection & Repair
Dryvit® also states that “A qualified EIFS inspector should be retained and a professional contractor experienced with EIFS product application should be hired to perform any required repairs”.
Finding a qualified EIFS inspector is the first step to a thorough evaluation and maintenance of the exterior cladding. The inspector should be certified by either the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI) and/or Exterior Design Institute (EDI) and should have performed a minimum of 500 EIFS inspections (commercial or residential). They should also have the ability to perform invasive testing which may require removal and replacement of the EIF system in limited areas (see Inspection Protocol for details).
Click here to view a sample EIFS report. You should also ask to review sample reports of any other inspection company that you are considering for hire. We believe it’s impossible to assess an inspection company’s qualifications, unless you can see their finished product and the quality of the information they provide to their clients.
Once the evaluation has been completed and recommendations for remedial action have been established, the building owner should contact a “qualified” EIFS repair contractor.
While there are many qualified EIFS contractors, there are only a few that specialize in repairs which in many cases includes retrofitting flashing and window details, removal and replacement of wall areas and integration of new EIFS with other wall components such as windows while avoiding obvious “patching”.
Another consideration is that most EIFS applicators that install systems for new construction are used to working on construction sites where considerations such as landscaping and the presence of homeowners or other occupants are not a factor.
Ask the repair contractor to provide you with references of other repairs they have performed which are similar in scope to your needs, preferably at properties you can visit to see first-hand that the finished repair is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Other guidelines include, proof of insurance (general liability and worker’s comp), are their workers actual employees of the company, or only sub-contractors. And are they in good standing with organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List.
If your building has not been inspected previously, it is possible that the initial repairs or maintenance issues will be costly. However, our experience has been that by having your building inspected periodically by a “qualified” EIFS inspector and “properly” repaired, annual maintenance costs will be kept to a minimum, and in many cases can be limited to the cost of the inspection.
Most assuredly, regular inspections will provide the homeowner with the tools to prevent minor problems from become costly headaches.
Independent third-party inspections are in the best interest of ALL parties involved, including homeowners, building owners, general contractors, sub-contractors, code officials and even EIFS applicators. The purpose of these inspections is to assure that the exterior cladding system is installed in compliance with manufacturers’ recommended details and specifications. Additionally, it is imperative that all of the components of the structure that interface with the EIF system be properly designed and installed to prevent moisture intrusion and the potential resulting damage.
Third-Party inspections are also required by international and local code in some circumstances as well as by many municipalities throughout the United States, through local ordinances and/or building codes. Additionally, many building owners engage our third-party inspection services for their own “peace of mind”.
The process begins with a review of any and all related construction documents including drawings and specifications. Document review is followed by a pre-application meeting, which may require the presence of some or all of the following individuals: The building owner, general contractor, a representative of the EIFS manufacturer, as well as any other relevant sub-contractors to discuss the proper interface of the EIF System with other construction components and materials on the project. It is necessary for Cliff Kapson Consulting, Ltd to receive copies of all project plans and specifications for review prior to the pre-construction meeting.
As with repair monitoring, all site visits are randomly scheduled. This allows our inspectors to observe “real working” conditions. Each site visit is photo documented. Any “problems” observed at the time of inspection are documented and are expected to be corrected along with photo and written documentation of corrective action by the contractor prior to our next site visit. The frequency and fees for these site visits are determined by the scope of work to be performed. Additionally, every attempt is made to maintain an open line of communication with the repair contractor throughout the repair process. This helps to avoid redundant site visits.
At minimum, monitoring of new construction EIFS applications requires site visits at the following specific stages of the application:
- Inspection of substrate, appropriate flashing and installation of weather barrier
- Observation of back wrapping procedures and installation of the insulation boards
- Application of the reinforcing mesh and base coat
- Application of the finish coat
- Joint preparation and installation of the sealants
Inspectors will also note any additional observations believed to be relevant to the proper installation and performance of the EIF System. Upon completion of the installation, Cliff Kapson Consulting, Ltd will submit a “Final Letter of Completion” along with photo-documentation of our site visits.
Click here to view a sample 3rd Party Inspection Program document.